[Update below, June 2013]
Phillip Northmore worked for the UK’s Ministry of Defense in Plymouth, England from 1963 to 1966. His job as a lagger meant he spent his day repairing and applying asbestos insulation around pipes and ductwork in the bowels of buildings. His wife recalled him coming home from work covered in dust. It would take three washings to get his work clothes clean because the water would turn white from the thick dust.
Debbie “Muvmuv” Brewer is Phillip Northmore’s eldest daughter. She was a pre-schooler when her dad worked as a lagger. Four decades later in 2006, Northmore died from an asbestos-related pulmonary disease and Muvmuv was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. Her most likely source of exposure was her dad’s clothing.
“He would have been mortified if he ever thought he would have given any of his four daughters this life sentence,” she said.
Brewer spoke this weekend at the 8th Annual International Asbestos Awareness Conference, describing her experience with “Theo,” the name she’s given the tumor inside her chest wall. When she waited recently for the latest results of a CT scan, she noted how she was waiting
“to find out if Theo had moved at all or if he has been a typical lazy man and sat on the sofa watching TV. He must be the only male I want to stay as a couch potato.”
One thing’s for sure, Muvmuv is as far from a couch potato as one could get. In fact, the “Meso Warriors” as they call themselves and other asbestos-disease awareness activists are waging two battles. The first, surviving their diseases, and the second, fighting for a global ban on the mining and use of all forms of asbestos. More than two million tonnes of asbestos are still produced worldwide annually, compounding the billions of tonnes already existing in buildings and infrastructure. Peak use in the U.S. occurred from 1950 to 1974, with as much as 1.58 million pounds imported per year.
The European Union banned the use of asbestos in 1996, and a total of 55 countries have done the same. The U.S. however has not, and we still allow the deadly mineral to be imported and used. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, about a thousand metric tonnes of raw asbestos were imported into our country last year. There are no requirements for importers to tell us where it was shipped or how it will be used. Those thousand metric tonnes are in addition to the asbestos-containing products that are also imported into our country.
GIven the following facts, how do we explain to children why we haven’t banned asbsestos?
Asbestos is a proven human carcinogen and there is no safe level of exposure.
Asbestos fibers can cause asbestosis, lung and gastrointestinal cancers, and an aggressive cancer called mesothelioma. The average life expectancy of a mesothelioma patient is six – twelve months.
Asbestos diseases have a 10 – 50 year latency period from initial exposure to development of disease.
Chrysotile asbestos accounts for nearly 95% of asbestos mined and exported today.
Asbestos fibers can be nearly 700 times smaller than human hair and are odorless, tasteless, indestructible fibers that can remain suspended in the air for seconds.
More than 100,000 individuals die annually from asbestos-related disease.
My answer: Greed.
[Update: Debbie "Muvmuv" Brewer, 54, passed away on June 8, 2013.]